Thursday, June 28, 2007

Am I really being blocked in China?

This is really strange. I was looking at my visitor logs, and saw an entry from a visitor in China who had loaded a page at I checked out the link and was looking at ... this blog but with a URL that was not on Blogspot.

When I checked out, I learned that it was a gateway for accessing Blogspot blogs that are banned or blocked in Pakistan, India, Iran, or China.

I don't know which is more wierd: the idea that my blog is being banned in one of those countries, or the fact that someone in China is using a blog gateway to read my blog in spite of a block.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tarentum's new borough website

Sometime last week, Tarentum Borough unrolled its new website at I have been waiting for it for a while because the old website went down sometime last year.

I visited the website and saw that it is a site in which the borough can take some pride. The website uses photographs well to reassure someone searching the site that they are in the right place. The masthead on each of the pages features four small pictures of scenes showing some of the best aspects of Tarentum: a burst of fireworks; a flag-waving toddler watching a parade; the George D. Stuart Bridge; and the Tarentum Station. (The photos of the starburst and the toddler may not be from Tarentum, but they do suggest some things that are important to Tarentum.) Beyond the masthead, most of the pages include photographs specific to their subject matter. This is very helpful to anyone searching for information.

The navigation of the site is well-designed, with multiple ways of getting to the different pages within the site. The horizontal menu below the pictures in the masthead leads to eight pages related to public officials and functions of the borough. In the right-hand column on each page are sections with links to other information about the town and an events calendar. On the home page the right-hand column also includes sections with links to latest news as well as links to the most viewed pages of the site.

The "Did you know" section of the site offers pages with the text of various ordinances that state the norms of behavior for residents of the borough with regard to such matters as safety, pets, sanitation, garbage, snow removal.

The downloads section offers links to PDF files for various forms one might need for making applications to the borough.

One of the nice features on the site is that both the "Did you know" and the "Downloads" sections show how many hits the various pages have had. It is one thing for the borough officials to know which parts of the website are getting the most use and attention from the public; it is even better that those pages are designed to share that same information with the public.

calendar_06-07.JPGOne odd thing I noticed on the site was the unconventional layout of the Events Calendar. Although most of the people in Tarentum use calendars on which the weeks begin with Sunday, the Tarentum Borough calendar makes Monday the first day of the week, and Sunday the last.

There is no rule that requires a calendar to be layed out by the weeks with the days in a particular order, but having presented the calendar in a way that looks superficially like other calendars, it is somewhat confusing to have changed the position of the columns for the days of the week.

On this young website, it is obvious that there is still information to be added to the content management system. For example, the Calendar of Events includes some of the regular borough events, but does not include Summer Concert Series (which has its own news story on the site) or the Summit Hose Company Street Fair that opens tonight and will run through Saturday. This will only improve as the Borough lives with its website and keeps adding information to the database.

Tarentum's website was designed by a small Pittsburgh web design firm, Data Blueprints, and it will be a useful tool for getting the word out about what is happening in Tarentum.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chris Denem starts Tarentum's 2007 Summer Concert Series

Chris Denem performing at Riverview Park, Tarentum on June 20, 2007The Tarentum Recreation Board kicked off their 2007 Summer Concert series with a concert by Chris Denem last night at Riverview Park, a beautiful setting with the Allegheny River flowing alongside.

Denem's voice and appearance qualify him to be advertised as a Neil Diamond impersonator, but during the concert he explained that he prefers to see this show as a tribute to Neil Diamond. Denem first performed a tribute to Neil Diamond in 1977 just across the river at the Holiday Inn in New Kensington (which is now the Clarion Hotel).

Chris Denem performing at Riverview Park, Tarentum on June 20, 2007Denem is also a creative songwriter/singer in his own right.

The concert featured such Neil Diamond hits as "Solitary Man", Sweet Caroline", "Coming to America," and "Forever in Blue Jeans."

Denem also sang a song from his own album "Heart of Stone", which has been received well in Europe and Australia.

Chris Denem singing in Riverview Park, Tarentum, June 20, 2007Near the end of the concert Tarentum Council President Carl Magnetta spoke to the crowd in praise of the hard work of Tarentum's Recreation Board. The Board had arranged this year's summer concert series without hiring a promoter, and had used the savings in order to arrange for more concerts.

The Recreation Board also ran the concession stand during the concert to raise funds for the Tarentum/Brackenridge Holiday Parade. Food for sale at the stand included hot dogs, pizza, sausage sandwiches, halushki, and popcorn.

The next concert in the series will be with Knucklehead on July 11 at 7:00 PM. Knucklehead performs Classic Rock and Roll.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tarentum Festival 2007

Last week the Tarentum Festival was held in Riverview Park from Thursday through Saturday, June 14-16. It is a fun event, but the emphasis on alcohol consumption has made it hard for many people, especially some neighbors of the event, to recognize the many positives that are part of the Tarentum Festival.

There were a lot of activities for children:

Petting Zoo at Tarentum Festival, June 14, 2007

a petting zoo,

Bungy jump at Tarentum Festival, June 14, 2007

... a bungy jump,

Dragon at Tarentum Festival, June 14, 2007

... and even a dragon.

Holy Family pierogi, at Tarentum Festival, June 14, 2007There was a good variety of food available. Although there had been a number of church-run food concessions in years past, this year it seemed that the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Creighton was the only church represented. Father Miro was there encouraging us to eat pierogies.

Thursday night I had a gyro from another concession, but when I came back on Friday, I enjoyed the pierogies from Holy Family.

And the most important reason why the Tarentum Festival is positive for the community is that it raises funds for our fire department.

The park looked great for the festival, as the eagles at the entrance had been repainted.

Eagles at entrance to Riverview Park, Tarentum, June 14, 2007

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"We're going to turn this town around": Carl Magnetta

Tarentum borough council met for a little over an hour Monday night. Many of the official comments and reports were upbeat, drawing attention to the work of the Recreation Board, the appearance of the parks, the summer concert schedule, and preparations for futher positive events.

Near the close of the meeting, Borough Manager Bill Rossey reported for the Redevelopment and Revitalization Committee. He reported about a number of significant grants that the Borough had received, and then described Tarentum's role in Allegheny County's own revitalization program. The county has identified four communities to be pilot projects for its county-wide revitalization program and Tarentum is one of the four.

Council President Carl Magnetta's comment on this news was that "We're going to turn this town around."

Mr. Rossey also reported that Tarentum's website might be up soon. We've been watching for it since February. When it is up the address will be

As a counterpoint to the optimism expressed in the meeting, I heard a new set of citizen concerns being raised, different from the citizen concerns mentioned at the previous meetings I have attended. In the past the council has often responded to these concerns with promises of action, but at this meeting the council seemed hesitant to get involved with the matters citizens raised.

Mary Lou Sober of West 8th Avenue raised concerns about a nearby house with a large number of inhabitants coming and going with guns. The council has started its procedure for handling nuisance tenants with regard to this house, but the neighbors are going to need to continue to be vigilant and to report problems to the police when they occur.

Donna Purdinasi of West 9th Avenue raised concerns about bonfires being started by some neighbors, with flames that rise dangerously far above the tops of the burn containers. The fires need to be reported when they happen.

There was also a concern about children riding gas-powered vehicles in the streets without using helmets. The Council's attitude was that because it was legal for adult motorcyclists not to use helmets there must not be a law against what the children were doing.

Karen Davidek Virag and Dave Virag of Fawn raised concerns about the Brian Clark Associates development in East Tarentum. She said that the developer has contacted her residential tenants multiple times to encourage them to move, and that he is proposing to place the transformer for his development in a location that would interfere with the tenant's use of the back yard. The council's expressed attitude was that the developer has a right to use his land the way he wants within the law. The council's perception was that the developer had bent over backwards to work with the neighbors.

A resident of West 10th Avenue complained about noise and vibrations coming from Wulfrath Refractories, possibly caused by the dust collectors. He said the noise was up to twenty hours a day. Bill Rossey said no one else is complaining about the sound and that when it has been tested it has been within the limits allowed.

Mary Lou Sober also raised concerns about excessive use of street parking by a neighbor who brings home a work vehicle with a trailer in addition to his multiple personal vehicles. It seemed that the council did not want to get involved because the street parking is available for anyone.

Harley Herseime, a resident West 6th Avenue asked the council for equipment and tools to help the skateboarders clean up the park. Mr. Herseime has been providing his own trash bags to empty the receptacles at the park because they fill up too quickly. Apparently, someone decided to put two large vending machines at the skate park, and they contribute a large number of plastic bottles to the area. The council made it clear that it had no interest in hearing Mr. Herseime's concerns. He was the only citizen to be cut short from presenting his concerns fully, and he was ordered to leave when he objected. (Other citizens who kept talking after being interrupted by the council had been allowed to continue.)

vending machines at the James E. Wolfe SkateparkThe vending machines sell Pepsi products, and are serviced by Star Services. The machines are always well-stocked so they are making money for someone, but it is not clear where the money is going.

Meanwhile, skateboarders need to go through the trash and remove bottle caps in order to be able to compress the large amount of waste generated at the park.

Although Mr. Herseime brought a witness to vouch for the volume of trash, the council members said they did not believe there was an excessive amount of trash, and that trash pickups three days a week should be adequate.

sign_052107.JPGAt the end of the meeting there was a further citizen concern from Bob Hirtz of First Avenue, about the damage caused to his sidewalk by trucks. Mr. Hirtz is not the only resident concerned about the cost of maintaining sidewalks damaged by truck drivers who either cannot or will not stay on the street when making turns. The previous month I noticed this sign an angry homeowner had posted. This is one of many concerns that the council did not wish to address.

In previous council meetings I have seen the council members listen more supportively to citizen concerns. It is important that citizens be allowed to voice these concerns because they do indicate many of the problems that need to be addressed in the course of Tarentum's revitalization. I was puzzled by the degree to which the council at this meeting seemed to want to shorten the time for citizens to voice their concerns.

There was one other thing that puzzled me at the meeting. When I arrived before the meeting, I was told by others waiting outside that the council was meeting in executive session. During the meeting I never heard the council report two important facts to the public: 1) that they had met in executive session, and 2) what was being discussed in executive session. So it is not clear whether this was a genuine meeting in executive session or simply a private gathering of council members in the council chambers. Whichever is the case, closed-door formation of public policy does not bode well for Tarentum's revitalization. It discourages the level of public participation that is so desperately needed.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Dining changes around Tarentum

There have been a couple of changes in dining opportunities around Tarentum in the last month.

pizzatime.JPGPizza Time opened in the ice cream stand across from Dreshar Stadium. This is a new name and new location for Bentz's Pizza that used to be over in West Tarentum. It is a nice place to get an ice cream cone on a summer evening.

In addition to the ice cream, they also do pizzas (obviously) and a number of snadwiches and wings, all served take-out.

There have been rumors that Lee's Chinese Restaurant was closed. Lee's is now under the new management of Laurie Hayden, open for more hours and will offer delivery. Chef Greg Honzo is sticking around for a while as a consultant. The new management bought most of the recipes that have made Lee's Chinese a Valley favorite.

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First United Presbyterian celebrates 175 years

Choir leads congregation in singing "Litany for a Festive Day" for 175th Anniversary of First United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum, June 3, 2007On Sunday June 3, the First United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum celebrated its 175th anniversary with a special worship service and a luncheon program following worship. I was able to get to most of the worship service after the service at Central Presbyterian Church that had just switched to its summer hours.

The service featured a choral piece composed for the occasion. Michael Jothen, the composer, had planned to be present to conduct "Litany for a Festive Day", but health reasons prevented him. The piece included singing by the choir, trumpets played by WIlliam Tillman and Ryan Weaver, readings by Pastor Phil Beck, and singing of portions of hymns by the congregation: "The Church's One Foundation", "Now Thank We All Our God", and "Lead on O King Eternal."

The Pastor of Pittsburgh Presbytery, Jim Mead, preached the sermon "Creating the Present out of the Future." He spoke about God's trustworthiness in the past, and the future to which God is calling First United and the whole church.

During the delicious luncheon following the service there was a presentation to Pastor Emeritus Robert Andreen of a photograph of the large Celtic Cross of St. John the Evangel that hangs behind the pulpit of the church. Rev. Andreen had been instrumental in getting the cross for the church in 1965.

It was a very uplifting day that affirmed the long history of God's care for the Tarentum area.

The VND had a nice story about the anniversary.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Walls go up for a new Habitat for Humanity home in Arnold

Raising of the second wall of the new Habitat for Humanity house in Arnold, PA, June 2, 2007Today I attended the wall-raising for the Habitat for Humanity house being built in Arnold.

The full story about the wall-raising can be read on the Habitat for Humanity Allegheny Valley blog. (I am helping the local affiliate start its own blog so, I posted the full story and more pictures over there.)

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